People with severe epilepsy will be able to access a cannabis-based medicine on the NHS from the beginning of next year after its use has been accelerated.
The NHS England said doctors would be able to prescribe Epidiolex from 6 January.
It will be available for children from the age of 2, as well as adults, but some campaigners warn that it is “too little, too late”.
Clinical trials have shown that the oral solution, which contains cannabidiol (CBD), could reduce the number of seizures by up to 40% in some children.
The drug will treat two rare but serious forms of childhood epilepsy – Lennox Gastaut Syndrome and Dravet Syndrome – which can cause several seizures a day.
The Executive Director of Epilepsy Action, Philip Lee, welcomed the announcement, saying that it “brings much-needed hope and could change the lives of some people”.
However, he adds that Epidiolex was not “a magic bullet” and that there still much work to do to “gather solid, high-quality evidence of the effectiveness of other cannabis medicines”.
Medical cannabis activist Peter Carroll said it was “too little, too late” and urged that steps be taken to make medical cannabis based on CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) available to families in need.
THC is psychoactive
He said, “What has proved to have a transformative effect for children in great need is a CBD medicine with a little THC, but these are not licensed in the UK at present”.
Carroll added: “The law amended in November 2018 so that specialist doctors can prescribe medical cannabis with CBD and THC, even if they are not legal.
“To our knowledge, not a single prescription for the drug with these 2 has been issued on the NHS since the law was changed.”
An official NHS review earlier this year found a “lack of evidence” withholding cannabis drugs, which specialist doctors are allowable to prescribe in the UK since the law changes last year.
Decisions on the availability of medicines are devolved to the UK as a whole.
It is estimated that there are 3,000 people with Dravet syndrome and 5,000 people with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome in England.
NHS chief executive Simon Stevens said thousands of people would now have access to this treatment “which has the potential to make a real difference”.